Jose Rizal as international master sculptor

NATIONAL hero of the Philippines, Jose P. Rizal.

Admirers of our National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, can now read the definitive book on the sculptural works of their idol and icon for all time.

Celestino M. Palma Jr.’s Jose Rizal, Sculptor, brings together in one fell swoop the sculptural works of Rizal, thus allowing readers the pleasure and scholarly privilege of deciding whether “Rizal’s body of sculptural works should earn him a distinct and exalted place in Philippine art history,” a question that the author poses at the front flap of this 192-page coffee table book.

Palma, however, points out that no judgment of our national hero may need to be passed, as his “being an international master sculptor completes his persona as a Filipino “Renaissance Man.”

Deserving of the Filipino people’s gratitude for the publication of this book is the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines. Editor is Ambassador Jose Ma. A. Cariño.

Secretary of the DFA Teodoro Locsin Jr. tells us why we should read the book: “The author, Celestino M. Palma III, adroitly showcases the story of Rizal’s sculptures as vignettes of his life — the people who made a mark on him, places that moved him, his thoughts, feelings, experiences and the evolution of the man as an intellectual and artist.

Celestino Palma III (middle) with Rizal descendants Toti Bantug and Raul Bantug Tan. / PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE BOOK ‘JOSE RIZAL, SCULPTOR’ BY CELESTINO M. PALMA III

“The thrill and pleasure of rediscovery of lesser known but valuable historical and cultural keepsakes are evident throughout the book. The last chapter, in a breathtaking and captivating flourish, details the account of searching, finding and preserving Rizal’s unfinished wood-carved self-portrait made when he was just 18 years old — a genuine national treasure.”

Rizal’s student

Palma’s interest in Rizal’s sculpture began in 2012 when he bought a pair of wooden reliefs in an antique shop in Santa Barbara, California.

“They turned out to be works of Jose Caancan of Paete, a student of Jose Rizal when he was in exile in Dapitan,” he relates. “Two years later, the finds brought me to the house of Caancan in Paete for authentication. There, I saw a laminated photo of Caancan clutching a bust of Jose Rizal displayed in the living room. Caancan’s daughter-in-law Gloria and grandson Orven volunteered that the bust was carved by the national hero and was given to Caancan when Rizal left Dapitan for Cuba to work as a medic.

“From then on, anything I read about Rizal, I would note any mention of his sculptures. I eventually realized that there were gaps, inconsistencies, overlaps and inadequacies on what have been written about his sculptures that were always mentioned only in passing in literatures about him. I figured that it would be interesting to write a book focused on his sculpting that would prove it was a constant passion in his lifetime and that he was a good sculptor.”

Daily Tribune interviewed Palma, who gladly shared with us his thoughts on his book about our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, and his body of sculptural work.

Art collector

Daily Tribune (DT): You must be very much involved in the arts. Tell us about your love and passion for art heritage.

Celestino M. Palma Jr. (CMPJ): I am an art collector. I am passionate about my advocacy to preserve our art heritage. So in 2013, I set up this private art restoration/conservation consultancy with a laboratory that would provide these services accessible and affordable. As part of my advocacy, I also decided to write books about fading art heritage to document and preserve them. I do all the research and finance everything for my books except editing which my friend Jose Ma. Cariño does exceptionally well for free.

DT: How long did it take you to conduct the research for the Jose Rizal book?

CMPJ: Since I am not a fulltime writer, I took my sweet time to research. It was only 12 months ago that I started writing the book.

‘LAST Moments of St. Paul/San Pablo Ermitaño’ by Dr. Jose P. Rizal, Dapitan, 1893.

DT: Was there an authority on Rizal and his art, especially his sculpture, whom you interviewed?

CMPJ: There is no single person whom I interviewed that I can say is an expert in Rizal and his art or body of sculptures. That made the research and the book project more challenging. Aside from the many books and articles I read with snippets of Rizal’s sculptures, I also interviewed Rizal historians that gave me leads where to research. I met some descendants of Rizal and his friends to learn more unwritten knowledge about Rizal’s artworks and their locations. I also interviewed contemporary artists to explain technically Rizal’s sculptures. I interviewed collectors of Rizal memorabilia, members of Rizal organizations and a few Rizal book authors.

The exceptional information and references were the very old ones that came from the librarians, archivists and museum staff I met. No red tape, apprehensions or formalities, unlike their academe and government agency bosses. Only dedication to share knowledge and culture with the Filipinos. Exactly like Rizal.

Man of many talents

DT: Rizal was a man of many talents. How was he as a sculptor? How would you assess his talent first, and then his works?

CMPJ: Rizal was an internationally recognized sculptor. He was accepted to exhibit his work in the 1889 Salon de Paris exhibition, only reserved for the best international artists. His works were lauded by artist friends of his friend Blumentritt. He took up courses in the art academies in Manila and Madrid. (Conclusion in tomorrow’s issue)

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